Authentic Confidence

For Veteran’s Day I was asked by American Legion Post 771-Gurnee to be their guest speaker.  When I was asked everything in me wanted to say no.  Since I’ve been back and probably always, I really don’t like being recognized as being in the Navy.  I am proud of my service, but I don’t need others to know or recognize me.  I’ve never been one to enjoy wearing my uniform places other than to work.  I was telling Timyra the other day, I would prefer being recognized for the races I’ve run than my time in the Navy.  When I give my elevator speech I talk about the work I do at Life Fitness, my role as a mother, the time I spend training, and then if there is time I will give a brief summary of the Navy.  I just prefer it that way.

Although what I learned before and after my speech was this was not about me.  My service today and the recognition I receive is for those who served after me.  It is to ensure they are not forgotten and has nothing to do with me.  Before I spoke a Vietnam Era Navy Veteran, Bob, came up to me and introduce himself.  He mentioned he served in Vietnam as a Cryptologic Technician.  My dad happened to also serve during a similar time period also as a Cryptologic Technician.   My dad happens to be VERY proud of his two years of service, I would say much prouder than I’ll ever be of myself, yet after talking to Bod I started to understand why.    These men and women feel forgotten and identify strongly with the Navy.  My identity does not revolve around the Navy, but for them it changed them in away they can never let go of.

With Bob, who should be VERY Proud!

As I was speaking some of these men and women were crying.  They stood for me when I was finished.  I had so many come up to me afterwards and thank me for giving a new perspective to an old subject.  One of the little boys came to me and said, “that man didn’t do a very good job, but you did great!”  I may not have the same pride these Veterans have in their service, but I was proud of the message I was able to share with them.  I always will put on my uniform, even if I complain a little, for people like Bob and anyone who is willing to listen to me!

Below is the speech I gave that day!

Authentic Confidence

Alan thank you for the kind introduction.  Happy Veteran’s Day to all the Veteran’s especially those who are actively serving in a combat zone.  And a special thanks to those Veteran’s in our audience. 

It truly is my honor to be here today speaking to all of you and to know you are here willing to listen.  

I am sure many of you sitting out there believe, that since I am a woman, you will hear what it is like to serve in the military as a woman.  Even I, as the woman, I feel I am obligated to speak about what it has been like serving in a male dominated field.  I’m supposed to speak about my challenges and how I overcame them.  To say look how strong and successful I am today, despite adversity.  Then I am obligated to talk about how this changed me, and I am so thankful for the experience.  And lastly, about how I want to inspire all the women after me to pursue their dreams and never let their gender get in their way! 

I do believe women should pursue their dreams, but I don’t believe they should because they are woman.  I really don’t believe their gender gets in their way.  I believe our genders, male and female, can be an asset we leverage to make ourselves great.  I know my time in the Navy working with men has changed me and made be stronger, but I don’t believe gender has to be the factor that sets my success apart.  Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to follow their dreams.  At no point in my military career did I feel my gender kept me from pursuing mine.  I’ve thought about this a lot and I wondered why this is.  When I hear other woman speak of discrimination, I don’t see my experience the same way.  My memories of my time in the service are not littered with moments of when I had to overcome serious moments of discrimination.  Of course, there were times when men acted inappropriate, but it was so few and far between it never tainted my perspective or discouraged me from continuing to be me.  The name I give this is authentic confidence. 

A mentor of mine, from early on in my career, who also happened to be male, told me to never stop being a woman.  Men and woman are different, and they are supposed to be.  It is ok and completely natural.  By nature, I am not a man, and this means there are things I am not as good at as a man, but there are so many things I can do better.  When we work together we bring the best of ourselves to the table working towards the best results.  I have tried throughout my professional career to embrace my femininity and stay true to myself.  I was confident in who I am and through my authenticity and confidence I was able to thrive in a situation where historically I wasn’t supposed to. 

Compared to many, I have a different perspective on the topic of women doing what is typically considered “a man’s job.”  Although I believe since I am a woman who has spent her entire professional career in male dominated careers I have a good perspective of what it takes.  To illustrate my perspective, I want to share a story of a conversation I had with a fellow Sailor while I was in Afghanistan. 

Most Sundays we didn’t have to report to work until after lunch, so to break up the monotony, a group of us would get together and run.  To mix things up, many of the runs were themed and we would dress up and there were always Oreos to snack on afterwards.  These runs were away for us to spend time outside of work with our fellow service members and forget about where we were, even if for just a few minutes. 

While we were running I was chatting with a few of our fellow runners.  One of the runners was a submariner.  We were talking about women on subs.  When I commissioned, in 2005, women were not allowed on subs.  This did not upset me in any way.  I had no desire to serve on a submarine.  As a matter of fact, during the summer following my freshman year of college, the Navy sent me to Norfolk, VA to spend one week with each of the potential communities we could commission into.  All of us went to a sub and spent one week underway on the boat.  As I entered the hatch to board the submarine I wanted to turn right around and leave.  There was nothing in the community that appealed to me.

While we were running we were also talking about National Women’s Day and women doing jobs traditionally held by men.  I do believe women should be able to do whatever job they want to and have a passion for.  What irritates me about women’s rights events and things like National Women’s Day is the motivation behind what these activists are doing.  The question I always ask is, what are we really celebrating on days like National Women’s Day?  Do we need to draw attention to these differences, or could we embrace them instead?  If you are becoming a submariner (or insert any career) because all your life all you wanted to do was become a submariner, I am very happy for you and I wish you the best of luck on your pursuit to break down barriers.  If you are becoming a submariner because you want to prove to someone else that you are capable of doing something, then don’t.  Your heart is not in it and you are doing it for all the wrong reasons.  To be successful you must stay true to yourself and maintain your authentic confidence.  If you are not being true to yourself, you will never be confident in your abilities and what you are pursuing.  Just because I didn’t want to be a submarine officer didn’t mean I couldn’t, I didn’t have the passion.  I simple had the motivation to pursue another career.  As a submariner I would not have been able to be authentic to myself.  Therefore, I wouldn’t have the confidence to break down the barriers required.  I wanted to apply my skills and passion somewhere else.  I didn’t have the drive or desire to make that my career.  I have nothing to prove, I know if I wanted to I could have, there was just something I wanted to do more.

During my seven years on active duty I found a lot of success.  I left my first ship as the number one Surface Warfare Officer and stood toe to toe if not half a toe ahead of my male counterparts.  Along with my success as a Surface Warfare officer and obtaining my necessary qualification I was also there to support the Sailors who worked for me.  By nature, women tend to be more compassionate and patient than men.  When situations would arise in my division, my Chief Petty Officer often would lean on me to deal with these delicate scenarios.  These were situations involving families, suicide, and other more personal matters.  I was an asset to the team outside of just my day to day job.  If I had left my famine nature at the door when I went to work, I never would have been able to contribute in the way they needed me too. 

I want to challenge all of you to look inside and really think about what it is that is motivating you.  Are you too motivated by outside influences that you have lost your true motivation?  Is it time to stop pursuing something because you are only on that path to prove something to someone else?  Have you lost your own motivation and is it time to find that internal spark again?  Lastly and I think most importantly, remember, just because you don’t have the desire to change the world doesn’t mean you don’t have the internal passion to do something great.  You don’t have to want to be the next FIRST to do something.  You just need to find your IT, the thing that makes you, YOU.  The thing that allows you to be true to yourself and I promise the motivation to succeed will come naturally.  Your confidence will be there to break any and all barriers that stand in your way.  Be great at what you love and not what you should love or what someone else thinks you should love.  BE YOU, AND BE MOTIVATED, BY YOU!!  Be authentic and confident in all your endeavors and you will never fail or at least you will never fail in being you! 

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